Cold Weather & Pain in Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Getting Chilled to the Bone!

Feet in socks being warmed by a fire in a brick fireplace.
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One of the most common complaints from people with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome is how awful cold weather can be.  The cold seems to get into our bones and make everything tighten up and ache. The cold can make our skin hurt, and when we get chilled it can be ridiculously hard to warm back up.

That leads to a questions and comments like these:

"Weather is the biggest offender. I'd love to know if people who live in states where it's warm & dry have fewer symptoms?" -JennyG

"I have to move to Arizona.........winters in the midwest are brutal to fibro for me." -al sleet

"I live in the UK where the weather is often damp and cold, even in summer! We have now bought an apartment in Spain, because after a 'trial run' in a villa there in October 2009, where I found myself in a lot less pain (weather, less stress, less housework, etc.) we decided that it was a much better climate for me!" -Sharon

"I live in southern Arizona where we recently went through an unusual and dramatic cold snap (while everyone else was getting massive snow and ice) which broke many records. I noticed when the front came through my muscles tightened up quickly and the achiness went through the roof.  I moved here from Kansas last year because the changes in barometric pressure and temps were rapid and frequent as well as for the sun which I find very therapeutic. I was quickly reminded of the effects of sudden weather changes on my pain levels." -delere

At the same time, many of us are heat sensitive, and some are sensitive to both heat and cold. This makes it hard to manage no matter the weather or climate you live in. To manage the symptom, it takes paying attention to your environment and how it's impacting your body, and thinking ahead for those times when you know you'll be dealing with extremes.

Here's some help with all that:

The Research

We can pretty definitively say that cold and heat impact us more than they do other people—it's even used in research because it reliably causes pain in us more readily than in healthy folks. Specifically, it's a good indicator of our lower pain thresholds (the point at which sensation becomes painful.)

A 2015 Belgian study confirmed that our bodies adapt differently to low temperatures. In fact, it was so hard for the participants with fibromyalgia to tolerate cold that it actually hampered the research!

In a 2015 study (Vincent), participants with fibromyalgia reported that weather changes were a major cause of symptom flares, right along with stress, overdoing it, and poor sleep. But is that perception accurate?

A 2014 study in Pain Medicine concluded that the association between weather and fibromyalgia pain was "limited at best." Research published a year earlier in Arthritis Care & Research stated that:

  • there wasn't a universal connection
  • that certain individuals did appear sensitive to certain weather conditions
  • there weren't characteristics in patients that appeared to predict weather sensitivity

    A study out of Portugal found that it wasn't weather conditions that seemed to make us worse, but weather changes.

    Still, relatively little work has been done in this area, so we can't say anything for certain. 

    Sources:

    Bossema ER, et al. Arthritis care & research. 2013 Jul;65(7):1019-25. Influence of weather on daily symptoms of pain and fatigue in female patients with fibromyalgia: a multilevel regression analysis.

    Brusselmans G, et al. Acta anaesthesiologica Begica. 2015;66(1):19-27. Skin temperature during cold pressor test in fibromyalgia: an evaluation of the autonomic nervous system.

    Miranda LC, et al. Acta reumatologica portuguesa. 2007 Oct-Dec;32(4):351-61. Perceived pain and weather changes in rheumatic patients.

    Smedslund G, et al. International journal of biometeorology. 2014 Sep;58(7):1451-7. Do weather changes influence pain levels in women with fibromyalgia, and can psychosocial variables moderate these influences?

    Vincent A, Whipple MO, Rhudy LM. Pain medicine. 2015 Jan 13. [Epub ahead of print.] Fibromyalgia flares: a qualitative analysis.

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